How to (Intrinsically) Motivate Learning in Your Organization

Speexx recently enjoyed a Masterclass Webinar hosted by Cambridge Assessment English’s Global Product Strategy Manager, Ian Cawley. The topic was learner motivation – specifically, how organizations can better motivate their employees to learn new skills, such as foreign languages.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, motivation is defined as “the need or reason for doing something; willingness to do something; enthusiasm.” As Ian pointed out during the webinar, research shows that motivation is responsible for determining human behavior – by energizing it, and by giving it direction.

Ian went on to describe two types of motivation. The first is known as “intrinsic motivation,” which, in the case of learning, is a desire to learn that comes from within. Learning for learning’s sake. The second, “extrinsic motivation,” is a willingness to learn due to an outside influence – like money, fame, a promotion, or praise.

With extrinsic motivation, however, language competency itself isn’t the goal but rather a vehicle to achieving a professional or personal accomplishment. Ian cited passing school exams, or enhancing CVs for better job opportunities, as examples of extrinsic motivation.

Between the two, Ian asserted, intrinsic motivation is more powerful, as it’s personal to the individual. This type of motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards; we simply enjoy an activity, or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potential. This is the type of motivation that creates positive emotions within the individual – the driver that gets people to do volunteer work or give back to their communities.

Ian’s illuminating discussion stimulated some ideas from Speexx on how HR and L&D managers might increase intrinsic motivation at their organizations:

improve motivation to learn

1. Give people (some) control

People want control over themselves, and their environments, and want to determine what they pursue. How can you structure learning paths so that people feel that they’re at the helm?

Before sitting down to prepare learning strategies, talk to your employees. Have a clear understanding of what they want to know, what they don’t know, and what they want to learn – and how. In a classroom? On mobile devices?

Knowing what their expectations are will make you better equipped to recommend courses and methods for each learner; knowing that you’re trying to adapt and personalize the journey for each of them specifically will help them trust you and the lessons they’re assigned.

motivate employee learning

2. Establish relevance: what’s in it for me?

Before assigning tasks or lessons, be sure your employees understand the benefits and practical applications of the knowledge they’re going to gain. Convince your employees of its relevance, and why it’s worthwhile, and be sure they’re fully grasping the reasons they need to study a certain topic.

how to motivate employees to learn at work

3. Keep them challenged…

People are motivated when they pursue goals with personal meaning – even more so when attaining the goal is possible, but not necessarily certain. These goals may influence self-esteem when performance feedback is available, making this a prime example of intrinsic motivation, as it’s all deeply personalized.

4. …and socialize the challenges! 

Intrinsic motivation can be increased in situations where people must compete amongst themselves, or in situations where they may gain satisfaction from helping one another. If people have to measure themselves against others, chances are they’ll push themselves harder as they’re aware of being observed. A little friendly competition holds everyone more accountable.

Intrinsic Rewards

It’s important to remember that our perspective on rewards differs; HR and L&D managers need to keep in mind that offering a certain type of reward to all employees who acquire or master a new skill won’t necessarily improve a person’s motivation, interest and performance. A number of factors can influence whether the intrinsic motivation is increased or decreased by external factors. Realizing and appreciating each individual’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and balancing them appropriately – to then see effective, positive results across the organization – is the HR and L&D manager’s ultimate reward.

About the Author:

Sarah Sullivan is the Head of Digital Content & Communications for Speexx, the world’s leading online language learning and business communication skills training service.